Birthstones are believed to enhance a persons physical and emotional well-being, in different ways for each gemstone. The history of birthstones spans over a long period of time and involves religious writings, ancient beliefs and more recent folklore.
The Old Testament was the first known reference to twelve symbolic gemstones, they were chosen to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The stones were mounted on a breastplate, a sacred object worn by the high priest Aaron. Much later in history the twelve stones were associated with the 12 months of the year and the Zodiac we consult today. There is still a great deal of speculation as to the actual gemstone types used and their respective positions on the Breastplate.
Birthstone jewellery is also used as a Talisman, an object thought by some to possess magic powers and bring good luck. The talisman may be a single unmounted gem or gems mounted in pendants rings or other objects. Gems are also used for amulets, objects thought to give protection against evil, disease and danger. They were common in the ancient past, when travellers were known to wear amulets to protect them from dangerous events and feel safe when travelling by road or sea.
The birthstones shown below are based on the modern system, which varies slightly from country to country. There are also alternative birthstones for some calendar months, allowing a greater choice and a more affordable range. For example, the April birthstone is diamond, the alternatives for April include white sapphire, goshenite (white beryl) and white topaz, all available at a much lower cost.
This short guide gives an insight into the fascinating subject of birthstones, adding to the excitement of buying and receiving gem and jewellery gifts.
Garnet is known as the birthstone of Love and Devotion and has been associated with virtues that constitute good towards other people, such as sincerity and affection. Garnet is mainly thought of as a red gemstone whereas it occurs in all colours except blue, colourless garnet is called Leuco Garnet. Demantoid garnet (a variety of the Andradite Species) is the most valuable with it's varying shades of green and a very high diamond-like lustre.
With it’s striking purple colour and bright blue, violet and red flashes (in deeper purple stones), amethyst is a very attractive gemstone. It has been revered by the Romans and Greeks who believed it could prevent intoxication and also possessed healing powers. The colour purple is associated with royalty and the Christian church, where it appears in dress codes and ceremonial decorations. Amethyst rings were worn by Christian Church officials who also adorned the church with various amethyst artefacts. Ancient merchants, travellers and pilgrims would wear amethyst amulets, to protect them from harm and unexpected events.
Aquamarine is thought to bring peace and serenity and is used by some as a meditation stone. In the past it was worn by seafarers to protect them from the dangers at sea. The Latin name aqua marina, meaning ‘water of the sea’ was named by the ancient Greeks to describe the gem material of light or darker shades of green-blue or blue-green. Although deeper blue-coloured stones occur naturally they are rare and most of those on the market are the result of enhancement. Transparent stones are faceted and typically have a bright and sparkling appearance, whereas translucent stones are cut en-cabochon (with a smooth domed surface). Aquamarine is a variety of beryl, other varieties include emerald and morganite.
See aquamarine info for more detail and aquamarine for available online items.
An alternate stone for March is Bloodstone, a green coloured variety of chalcedony, speckled with blood-red spots. (chalcedony is a variety of the quartz group).
Diamonds are for ever, as the saying goes, referring to the hardest known natural substance on earth. Diamonds symbolize invincibility and strength, purity and innocence. It is certainly a sign of wealth for owners of larger cut and rare diamonds, as the price per carat increases exponentially as the weight increases. Diamonds also occur in many colours, referred to as fancy diamonds and enhancement methods extend the range to give a much greater choice of colour.
See diamond for more detail. Alternate birthstones for April include Rock crystal, a colourless variety of quartz. But other colourless gems (described as white) could also substitute as the April birthstones. For example, white sapphire, white topaz and Goshenite (white beryl) are all colourless gems.
Emeralds are associated with emotional balance, the rich green colour is often described as grass green and is known to have a calming effect. Thought of in ancient times as an aid to restoring the sole, it was a symbol of rebirth. This beautiful and highly desired gemstone appears in royal crowns, ceremonial armoury and regalia to stunning effect. India has always held emerald in high regard and it is well sort after in the domestic market. Emerald is a variety of beryl (other varieties include aquamarine, morganite and heliodor).
See Emerald to read further. An alternate birthstone for May is Chrysophrase, a variety of the Chalcedony quartz group. Where high quality stones are a richly saturated green colour.
Pearl with it’s soft iridescent lustre is a greatly desired and valuable gemstone. Pearls are associated with peace, beauty and nobility. They are of organic origin, growing naturally in Mollusc's (oysters and mussels) in seas and rivers in exotic parts of the world. Many adventure stories have been written about the search for this often elusive treasure. Commercially grown since the early 1900's pearls are now available in all shapes and sizes and are dyed to many different colours. See pearl for more detailed information.
Moonstone and Alexandrite are alternative birthstones for June. Moonstone is a variety of feldspar that displays an adularescent effect the resembles moonlight. Alexandrite is a colour change variety of chrysoberyl, first discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1830.
Ruby is a symbol of Passion and Love and is said to allow the wearer to attain inner peace and contentment. The beautiful red colour of ruby is the most important feature, pigeons blood red is the colour most sort after. When a ruby is pigeon blood red and also possesses high clarity, the market price escalates, as these rubies are extremely rare. The value of ruby varies enormously with colour and clarity, less so on cut, but weight can increase the value exponentially.
This prized gem can be seen in crowns, sceptres and ceremonial regalia in many of the royal households that have existed over millennia. As well as the red colour, it was also prized for it's hardness and durability. Ruby is a member of the corundum family and is very hard and durable, being 9 on the Mohs' scale of hardness. Corundum is harder than all gems except diamond, diamond is the highest natural material at 10 on the Mohs' scale of hardness.
Peridot is the birthstone of loyalty and truth and is believed to provide protection when worn. Amulets set with peridot were worn by travellers in dangerous times to ward off danger. The gem was first mined and fashioned over 3,500 years ago and appeared in artefacts in Egypt and other Mediterranean countries. Peridots are bright lively gems that radiate yellow flashes of light from faceted stones, with an attractive appearance when set in both silver and gold. They may be cut in the Portuguese style with many small facets to give a sparkling effect (scintillation).
Sardonyx is an alternate birthstone for August and is described as a 'layer stone'. The layers are white and brown allowing the stone to be carved as cameos and intaglios. Providing an alternate type of birthstone jewellery.
Sapphires are associated with faithfulness, which makes them ideal for engagement rings. Highly priced blue sapphire varies in colour from light cornflower blue to a rich royal blue. Sapphire is a variety of corundum that occurs naturally in all colours except red, red corundum is ruby. The word sapphire alone means 'blue sapphire' all other colours use a colour descriptor, for example ‘yellow sapphire’ or 'pink sapphire'. Corundum is a very hard and durable material, diamond is the only gem harder than sapphire and ruby.
An alternate stone for September is Lapis Lazuli, a deep blue stone often speckled with iron pyrite. The early Egyptians used Lapis Lazuli to adorn artifacts, where it displays a stunning contrast with yellow gold and other gem materials. The most famous example being Tutankhamun's death mask, where Lapis Lazuli was one of the inlaid gem materials.
Opal symbolizes hope and purity, it is a beautiful gemstone that occurs in many varieties. It is termed precious opal when it shows a play-of-colour, a unique and beautiful display of changing patterns that appear as the opal is turned and moved around. It was first mined in Ethiopia thousands of years ago and is now mined mainly in Australia. Other countries that mine opal include Mexico, the USA, Canada, Brazil and Honduras. Ethiopian opal has made a recovery in recent times and is now abundant in the gem market. Opal makes ideal birthstone jewellery with it's magnificent and unique play of colour.
Another October birthstone is tourmaline, it is found as single coloured crystals in various colours and also as multicoloured crystals that are typically in pink, yellow and green colours.
Citrine is associated with success and achievement through clear thinking and new ideas. The name is derived from the citrus lemon-yellow coloured stones, rarely found in nature. The yellow to golden yellow stones that appear in the gem market are mostly heat-treated amethyst or smoky quartz. Citrine is a variety of quartz that has benefited from enhancement to produce very attractive gemstones.
An alternate stone for November is yellow to orange coloured topaz. When it occurs naturally in rich, highly saturated orange-brown colours, it is called imperial topaz and is considered rare and precious.
Blue topaz is a modern birthstone for December that according to folklore will make the wearer more attractive, intelligent and happy. The name Topaz is from the Sanskrit word tapaz which means 'fire' referring to the yellow or red-tinted yellow topaz. Natural blue topaz is very rare, modern blue colours are produced by treating colourless topaz. Topaz occurs naturally as yellow, brown, pink and colourless material, that may have coloured tints including blue. Imperial Topaz is a rare orange-brown colour. See topaz information for more detail and topaz for online items.
Alternate birthstones for December include Turquoise, Blue Zircon and Tanzanite. Turquoise is one of the original birthstones that appears in older systems, Whereas Tanzanite is a relatively new discovery (1867) and is now accepted as one of the modern birthstones for December.